In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie * Blog Tour* guest post

    It is with great pleasure that I welcome Rebecca Mackenzie to Books, Life and Everything today to celebrate her wonderful book, In a Land of Paper Gods. This is part of the Book Tour to mark the publication of the paperback version on July 28th 2016.

Rebecca has agreed to write a guest post today on writing about place in historical fiction. Over to you, Rebecca!


Thank you for hosting me today on my blog tour for IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS. The novel follows the story of Henrietta S. Robertson, a child growing up in a missionary boarding school in China who, while her missionary parents are busy pursuing their calling, discovers a divine calling of her own.

In today’s post, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about how I approach place within historical fiction, in this case finding the setting for Lushan, and then a Japanese internment camp.

The novel’s school is set on a fictional mountain, a landscape inspired by a book of photographs I discovered one cold afternoon in the British Library –Wang Wushen’s ‘Celestial Realm’, which documents the strange mountain of Huangshan. Captivated by the granite peaks and pouring mists of his photographs, I travelled to China to climb the Huangshan for myself. As I walked the ancient paths that criss-crossed the mountain, I the searched for places where Etta would have played, feeling my way for an Etta like absence as I went. My parents were missionaries and my childhood was spent in Asia, where I grew up in the jungle. As a child, you experience what is around you in a highly sensory way. I drew on the intensity of that feeling, knowing the almost fierce affection Etta would have had for these places and the power they had to sculpt her own internal landscape. I wanted to let that strangeness and wonder of childhood creep up on me as I wrote.

One of the novel’s key events was inspired by a moment in the history of a real mission school. The port of Chefoo was occupied by the Japanese and after Pearl Harbour in December 1941, the mission school based there was interned, first at Temple Hill Camp and then Weihsien Civilian Assembly Centre. The imagined camp of the novel is a darker place than the one experienced by the children, with a tougher regime, perhaps something more akin to that experienced in the other Japanese camps across China. As I set out to write this section, I read a lot of military books and narrative accounts, and interviewed people, and so amassed a huge amount of material, some fascinating, some fascinating but not an organic part of the narrative. With my mind busy with lots of facts, before I could actually write that part of the book, I had to put my research to one side, and allow myself to dream the camp.

For both the mountain and the camp, I discovered that while detail was essential to ground the action -  in order for these fictional worlds to arrive, I needed to step outside my historical research, and wander in my imagination, wait patiently at my desk or the sides of streams for images and voices to enter. This new world emerged trembling at first, rather like a butterfly out of its dreaming chrysalis.


 Thank you, Rebecca, for letting us in on the thought processes behind your writing.  I loved the book and I am so pleased that you chose to write a guest post about how integral place was in your imaginative journey. 

In March 2016, I reviewed In a Land of Paper Gods and my thoughts can be read here.

Rebecca Mackenzie c. Kirsti Abernethy
Rebecca Mackenzie spent her childhood in Thailand, Malaysia and India. She has a MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. She lives in London. IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS is her first novel. You can connect with Rebecca at her website here:

Thanks to the publishers, Tinder Press for allowing me to be on the Blog Tour, and for a copy of the book.

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